The place: Clapham Park, Plummer Road, Flat 14, London, Britain. Date: Sunday, 30 Sep 2007. Time: 07:00:55.
The sitting room did not have the traditional tightness or smallness of most of London’s flats but very large with end-to-end thick red carpet. The laptop on my lap produced its usual popping sound to tell me that a new mail had arrived on my opened email box.
I forgot for awhile the academic assignment I was absorbed in. I clicked open the box. The mail was from Abdul Karim Koroma aka Ajami of the Concord Times newspaper. He ‘subjected’ it as “Love” in reply to my earlier mail telling him that I was vacationing in the UK. The mail was terse: “One Drop: Thanx for the mail. We are back home holding the country for you people. Your friend Zainab Bangura is going to be Ernest’s Foreign Affairs Minister. She was in town last week but she left for London Friday”.
I could not believe it. And when President Ernest Bai Koroma himself announced ten ministers on Monday October 8, including Zainab Bangura as Foreign Affairs Minister, it sounded like a fairy tale to me!
It is still ‘Hollywoodish’ to me that someone I know very closely has become the Foreign Affairs Minister of Sierra Leone. That Zainab Hawa Bangura, who I voted for in the 2002 presidential and parliamentary elections, is now in government is too good to be true. How this woman and I met?
Zainab Bangura and I met sometime in late 1998 while I was the News Editor of the Independent Observer and she was still struggling with the nascent Campaign for Good Governance which was then headquartered at Liverpool Street in Freetown. I had gone to her office to do an interview with her, and after that interview we began to speak off-the-record spontaneously.
She first spoke to me in Temne but I replied that I could only speak the English and Krio languages. She joked: “bo u nar buf Teminee man” (a joke which Ali Bangura, the Sierra Leone High Commissioner in Ghana, later said to me sometime in 2001 after I was unable to reply to him in Temne when we first met in person). I told her that my mother, who brought me up in the Byzantine Krio tradition, was a Sherbro-Limba who only spoke English and Krio in the home, and that I had never traveled outside Freetown in my life (I made my first trip outside Freetown in April 2002, and now I have traveled to all the 12 districts in the country). She then told me of how she started Campaign for Good Governance with a laptop in her bedroom; she told me a little bit about her background, and of the development she wanted in Sierra Leone both political and human, but she never hinted that she had political ambitions. We parted with her giving me her business card and asking me to be keeping in touch with her.
The Zainab Bangura thunderbolt (have you read Mario Puzo’s “Godfather”?) caught me and never left me since that first meeting. This thunderbolt was sensed in me by Jonathan Leigh, the Managing Editor of the Independent Observer, who later would always joke with me: “Look what they have written about your ‘girlfriend’” whenever Zainab Bangura’s character was guillotined in or pilloried by the print media. And also at home, whenever this woman was on TV or being interviewed on radio, my mother would shout if I was not around: “Mohamed, come and see your ‘girlfriend’ on TV” or “come and hear your ‘girlfriend’ on radio”.
Unfortunately in 2002, when Zainab Bangura threw her ‘enkincha’ into the political ‘barray’, I had secured a local United Nations job as an Information Assistant-Staff Writer which prevented me from actively campaigning for her but I voted for her and hoped half of the womenfolk in Sierra Leone would do the same. But I was shattered when the final results were announced as my ‘girlfriend’, who should have gun-jumped Ellen Johnson-Sirlef of Liberia, was totally rejected by her womenfolk. I could not and still cannot understand why the women of Sierra Leone, who had and have been clamouring for fifty-fifty representation in every sphere of public life rejected the opportunity presented them in the person of Zainab Bangura.
But this indefatigable lady, who is imbued with patriotic valour, was undaunted as she formed the National Accountability Group (NAG), which she used to nag the then government from its inertia to be accountable to the governed. And when she was beginning to be a gadfly on the ex-government, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) snatched her from Sierra Leone and made her Chief of Civil Affairs ( in United Nations-speak, the equivalent to Sierra Leone’s NaCSA) with over 80 personnel under her watch. Also, it was while she was in the UN mission in Liberia that she bagged an international award that saw her visiting the White House and having a tête-à-tête with President George W. Bush who praised her commitment to democracy, human rights and accountability in governance.
The Zainab Hawa Bangura I know is someone who is always determined to succeed in whatever enterprise she accepts. She is a woman whose love for Sierra Leone is unq